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Military Vets May Have Slight Edge in Tough Job Market

The Gazette - October 21, 2011, By TOM ROEDER

The unemployment rate hit nearly 12 percent in September nationwide for the youngest group of military veterans, but job seekers with military backgrounds may have a leg up on their civilian counterparts with some companies.

A job fair recently at Fort Carson drew dozens of employers including defense contractors, technology firms, police agencies and the Union Pacific railroad, that are looking to fill openings with veterans.

“They make excellent recruits,” said Texas State Patrol Cpl. Veronica Garcia, who came to Colorado to rope in a few soldiers for her force.

There may be employers who want to give veterans a job, but they were being overwhelmed at the fair by hundreds of vets seeking work.

The job fair at Carson’s Elk Horn Conference Center was packed elbow-to-elbow with soldiers about to get out of the Army and veterans wanting jobs. Parking for the fair was so crowded that cars pulled off into a nearby field, until that, too, filled.

“It’s scary looking for work,” admitted Master Sgt. David Gonzalez, who is retiring from the post’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team after four tours in Iraq.

But after years in combat, Gonzalez and others are ready to hit the civilian workforce because “spending another year away,” he said, is far more frightening.

The tough economy has been a boon for Army recruiters, who before the recession struggled to meet their goals even while offering enlistment bonuses that could top $10,000.

Now the Army is planning to cut its ranks by as many as 15,000 by 2015, and former troops are having a difficult time finding civilian work.

With nationwide unemployment still topping 9 percent, businesses have a wealth of applicants. For veterans who have served since 2001, the jobless rate was 11.7 percent in September, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate for young veteran women was higher at 14.7 percent.

Overall, military veterans are doing better in the job market than their civilian colleagues, with a jobless rate of 8.1 percent.

Military experience makes some candidates rise to the top of those tall piles of résumés, employers at the Fort Carson event said.

The traits of good soldiers and airmen pay dividends in the corporate world.

Most military applicants show up on time, follow rules, dress the part and show loyalty.

“The military have great skill sets that translate to our business,” said Douglas Owens, who was looking for troops to put on a suit for Primerica, a financial services firm.

The Obama administration has proposed tax credits for businesses that hire veterans — up to $4,800 for an employer who gives a veteran a long-term job. But that proposal has been stymied because it is tied to other provisions of the president’s controversial jobs bill, which has received a lukewarm reception from congressional Democrats and a hostile greeting from Republicans.

The job fair was part of a Fort Carson program that helps connect departing troops with jobs on the outside. Counselors also help soldiers polish their résumés and work on their interviewing skills.

Gonzalez has a couple of months to weigh his job options. But staying in Army green isn’t one of them.

“My wife said it’s finally her turn,” he said.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0194
Twitter @xroederx
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The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.